2 New Reports Show Childhood Obesity More Of A Concern Than Ever

2 New Reports Show Childhood Obesity More Of A Concern Than Ever

We all know that childhood obesity is an epidemic and more than a third of kids are either overweight or obese in the United States, but two recent reports show rates of childhood obesity have no signs of slowing down—and addressing the issue now is crucial if we want our kids to live long, healthy lives.

World Obesity Federation: 250 million kids will be obese by 2030

On October 2, the World Obesity Federation released their first-ever Global Atlas On Childhood Obesity, which shows the number of children and teens who are obese is expected to rise from the current estimate of 150 million to 250 million by the year 2030.

While North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand have childhood obesity rates that have stabilized at high levels, Africa, Asia and Latin America are most at risk—a result of emerging economies and aggressive food marketing to kids, the report states. In fact, 70% of countries lack policies that restrict food marketing to kids.

At the World Health Assembly in 2013, it was agreed that rates of childhood obesity should be no higher in 2025 than they were between 2010 and 2012. Yet this recent report found that 8 out of 10 countries have a less than 10 percent chance of meeting that goal and the U.S. has only a 17 percent chance.

In the U.S., recent data shows 9.4 percent of children between 0 and 5-years-old are overweight. By 2030, up to 26 percent of children and teens will be obese.

Related: Childhood Obesity: Are Parents To Blame?


Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: 18.5 percent of kids are obese

A second report released last week by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, State of Childhood Obesity: Helping All Children Grow Up Healthy, includes the best available data on national and state childhood obesity rates as well as recommendations to quickly address the issue.

According to the report:

  • In 2015-16, 18.5 percent of kids ages 2 to 19 were obese.
  • Black and hispanic kids have higher rates of obesity (22 percent and 19 percent respectively) than kids who are white (11.8 percent) and Asian (7.3 percent).
  • 21.9 percent of kids who live in homes that make less than the federal poverty level are obese.
  • Between 2016 and 2017-18, there were no states that had a significant change in their overall obesity rate.

While most of the news was bleak, there was some progress made for families who participate in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which provides healthy food, health care referrals and nutrition education to lower-income women.

The rates of obesity for kids 2- and 4-years-old in WIC decreased from 15.9 percent to 13.9 percent between 2010 and 2016, and that was true across all racial and ethic groups.

Related: 6 Facts About Child Hunger in the U.S. + What You Can Do

The report also included several key policy recommendations at the federal, state and local levels around both diet and physical activity to address childhood obesity including ongoing support and reform of WIC, the Child and Adult Food Care Program (CACFP), and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), a program that the Trump administration is threatening to significantly cut.

Additionally, the report includes a recommendation to include children under 2 in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which is still in development, urging them to take into account the 2017 Feeding Guidelines for Infants and Young Toddlers: A Responsive Parenting Approach and the new healthy kids’ drink recommendations which came out in September 2019.

They also recommend certain policies around food marketing, such as:

  • All food and drink advertisements and marketing in schools meet the Smart Snacks nutrition guidelines.
  • Soda and sugary drinks should be eliminated from kids’ restaurant menus and menu boards.

     

  • Maintain the nutrition standards for school meals that were in effect before rules about whole grains, sodium and milk were rolled back in December 2018.

Related: Why My Kids’ School Lunch Is Unhealthy (+ What I’m Doing About It)

Childhood obesity is a complicated problem that requires swift action from government agencies, schools districts, healthcare providers and parents. Although there’s no quick fix, without major changes within the next few years, our kids will face chronic health conditions and our healthcare system will continue to be taxed.

The way I see it however, is that fat or skinny, all kids need to have access to healthy, real food and they need to learn healthy eating and lifestyle habits.

What do you think about the new data and recommendations to address childhood obesity? Let me know in the comments.

How to Choose A Healthy Snack Bar for Kids

How to Choose A Healthy Snack Bar for Kids

     When you go to the grocery store or your favorite big box retailer (ahem, Target!) looking for a healthy snack bar for your kids, the amount of choices on the shelves can make your head spin. Just a few years ago, it seemed that the healthy snack bar market only consisted of options for adults, but now I’ve noticed a ton of brands have come out with kid-sized versions as well.

In fact, according to a recent report by Grand View Research, the global snack bars market was worth an estimated 20.5 billion in 2018 and is expected to grow by more than 6 percent by 2025.

Of course, this growth is in response to consumer demand.

We’re more interested than ever before in health and fitness, and we’re busy so we need easy, convenient and healthy snack options.

There are plenty of seemingly healthy choices and bars made with good-for-you ingredients like fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds, but sifting through all the ingredients and comparing labels is way too time consuming.

So let me make your life easier and walk you through everything you need to know about choosing a healthy snack bar for your kids, plus some of my favorite brands and homemade recipes.

Benefits of a Healthy Snack Bar for Kids

Kids love their snacks and serving up healthy options is aways a good thing.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), snacks are not only an opportunity to add nutrition into your child’s diet, but they can make it even healthier.

Although it’s always ideal to serve fresh fruits and vegetables instead of processed foods to maximize nutrition, a healthy snack bar with dried fruit for example, can be an opportunity to get more servings in your kid’s diet.

Related: [VIDEO] Is Dried Fruit Healthy For Kids?

Offering healthy snacks also helps to balance your kid’s blood sugar, stave off hunger and prevent overeating.

How many snacks should a child eat a day?

There’s no hard and fast rule about when and how many times a day kids should eat snacks.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests toddlers need 2 to 3 snacks a day, while pre-schoolers need 1 to 2 snacks per day to get the nutrition they need.

According to Jill Castle, RDN, in addition to 3 meals a day, school-aged kids need 1 to 2 snacks a day and teens need one snack a day unless they’re athletes or having a growth spurt.

“A good rule of thumb is to offer snacks a few hours after one meal ends and about 1-2 hours before the next meal begins,” Jo Ellen Shields, MED, RD, LD, co-author of Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight for Kids and Teens, said in this article.

Cons of serving kids snack bars

Despite the benefits of healthy snacking, experts say kids are snacking too much—a trend that’s responsible for the one-third of children who are overweight or obese.   

According to a March 2010 study in Health Affairs, kids reach for snacks 3 times a day and consume up to 600 calories from foods like chips, crackers, candy and dessert bars.

What’s more, the largest increase in snacking over the years is among kids between ages 2 and 6, the same study found.

When kids snack non-stop, they’re also less likely to be hungry when mealtime rolls around. So although a healthy snack bar can have its place in your kid’s diet, it can also displace calories from other healthy, whole foods they might otherwise get at meals. 

Something else I think that’s important to consider is our snack culture and the habits we’re teaching our kids.

Relying on snack bars (or any other type of processed snack) every day teaches kids to eat out of a package instead of eating real food.

Convenient makes our lives easier, but kids are missing out on valuable lessons like eating mindfully, shopping for healthy food, and preparing and cooking healthy meals.

If we want to raise healthy kids who not only accept, but crave healthy foods, we need to teach them these life lessons.

How to choose a healthy snack bar

Before you head to the store, there are some things to consider as you look for a healthy snack bar.

While you shouldn’t scrutinize calories, some of the snack bars have enough calories to be a meal for kids.

Also, when considering things like the amount of protein, fiber and sugar, you have to think about your kid’s overall diet. If your kid is already getting too much sugar from other snacks for example, you’ll want to think about the amount of sugar in the bar you choose.

Pay attention to protein
Protein promotes satiety, staves off hunger and can prevent weight, so it’s the first thing you should look for on a label, especially because a lot of snack bars have little to none.

Look for filling fiber
Most kids don’t get enough fiber from fruits, vegetable and whole grains. In fact, 9 in 10 kids don’t eat enough vegetables, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and 39 percent don’t eat any whole grains.

When you’re looking for a healthy snack bar, be sure to choose one that’s high-fiber. Not only is fiber filling, but it balances blood sugar levels, is heart-healthy, supports gut health, helps to prevent weight gain, and can help prevent and cure constipation. 

Related: How Much Fiber Do Kids Need?

Watch out for sugar
The American Heart Association says kids should eat less than 25 grams of added sugar a day, but studies show most kids—even babies and toddlers—eat too much.

Also, sugar is sneaky and can be hidden behind at least 61 different names like fruit juice, cane sugar, sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup. When looking for a healthy snack bar, read labels and look for those with the least amount of sugar possible.

Avoid these ingredients
It’s best to avoid bars that have rice, due to concerns of arsenic, as well as artificial ingredients, preservatives and food dyes.

You may also want to avoid bars made with processed ingredients like chicory root fiber and soy, whey or pet protein isolates and stick to whole-food protein sources like nuts and seeds.

Look at saturated fat content
The long-standing myth that eating fat causes high cholesterol, heart disease and weight gain has been debunked and we now know that healthy fats are essential to our health and our kids’ health.

Fats are a vital source of energy for our kids and help satisfy their hunger. They’re essential for healthy cell membranes, they support kids’ brains and the growth and development of their nervous systems, and help their bodies absorb fat-soluble vitamins like  A, D, E, and K. Fat are also necessary to make hormones and immune cells and they help regulate inflammation and metabolism.   

While experts agree it’s the trans fats and some saturated fats that should be avoided, foods with healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats from whole foods are beneficial.

So look for bars that have healthy fats like nuts, peanut butter, chia seeds, and flaxseeds, for example.

Some of my favorite healthy snack bar options

KIND bars
I’m a big fan of KIND bars because they use whole ingredients like fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds and most are low in sugar. They have a wide selection of bars, including protein bars, breakfast bars and nut-free bars as well as their KIND Minis which are a good option for kids. Now through October 10, 2019, you can get 15% off their fall variety pack.

Larabar
Larabar is one of my favorite brands because they only use between 2 and 9 whole food ingredients, some of their varieties are nut-free and they’re delicious. They also have bars with ingredients like spinach and kale, and a superfoods line with bars made with turmeric, ginger and cacao. While they also have a set of bars for kids, they don’t have fruits and vegetables and have less protein and fiber.

RX Bar
RX Bar are a protein bar brand that prides themselves on simple, whole ingredients that are clearly labeled on the front of the package. For little ones, stick with their kids’ bars which have the right amount of calories, protein and fiber and come in kid-friendly flavors like PB&J and chocolate chip.

This Saves Lives
This Saves Lives kids bars are made with fruits and vegetables and whole oats, only have 5 grams of sugar and are allergy- safe. One thing to note is that this is not a high-protein bar and some of their varieties have more fiber than others so read labels. What’s unique about the brand and something you can feel good about however, is that for every bar that’s purchased, the company sends life-saving food packet to a child in need around the world.

Or make your own healthy snack bar

I love to make homemade Larabars with my kids because it’s fun and they learn how to prepare healthy snacks. So if you’re so inclined too, here are some recipes to try.

Homemade Lara Bars by Super Healthy Kids

No-Bake Chocolate Protein Bars by Mom to Mom Nutrition

Homemade RX Bars by Super Healthy Kids

Healthy Homemade Granola Bars by Yummy Toddler Food

 

What’s your favorite healthy snack bar? Let me know in the comments!

[VIDEO] How To Boost Your Kids’ Immunity

[VIDEO] How To Boost Your Kids’ Immunity

If you have little kids, there’s no getting around the amount of times they get sick with colds, fevers and infections. Sure, you can do your best encourage them to wash their hands, keep their hands out of their mouths, and avoid putting toys, books, and everything else in their mouths, but chances are you’ll still want to find ways to boost your kids’ immunity.

Last year was particular difficult for our family in terms of the amount of times we all got sick.

If it wasn’t a fever, it was a cold and it seemed that my kids were sick every week. Although I rarely get sick, I too, had on again, off again fevers throughout the winter.

The ultimate blow however, was the flu. If you’re wondering, yes, we all had the flu shot—even my husband. Yet once my older daughter came home with the flu, we all got sick one after another.

Experts say that although the flu shot isn’t 100% effective—last year it was only 29% effective—it can still lower the severity of the flu if you get it. I find this hard to believe because it was so bad, I thought for sure I was knocking on death’s door.

This year, I’m hoping that because my kids are older, they understand better how to prevent the spread of germs and they’re taking probiotics, we’ll have better luck (Related: 10 Foods High In Probiotics for Kids)

So as we head into the fall and the flu season (experts say it’s going to be a bad one!), there are some things you can do to prevent your kids from getting sick so often. In today’s video, I have three easy ways to boost your kids’ immunity and keep them healthy.

What are some ways you have found effective to boost your kids’ immunity? Let me know in the comments! 

New Healthy Kids’ Drink Recommendations: What Parents Should Know

New Healthy Kids’ Drink Recommendations: What Parents Should Know

Last Wednesday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Heart Association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Academy of  Pediatric Dentistry jointly issued new healthy kids’ drink guidelines for parents.

Healthy Drinks, Healthy Kids as they’re called, are the first-ever consensus recommendations on what constitutes a healthy kids’ drink for kids ages 5 and under as well as the types of beverages parents should limit or avoid.

The new guidelines focus on a handful of key recommendations: breast milk, infant formula, plain milk, and water are best while fruit juice and non-dairy, plant-based milks should be avoided.

This is exciting news because these leading health organizations are finally taking a stance and stating that drinks are just as important as the foods we feed our kids.

Drinks can be a significant source of calories, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats for young kids and they can also fill a void from nutritional deficiencies that are typically a result of picky eating behaviors.

Since food preferences are formed at an early age—even in utero, the first 5 years is a critical time. Plus, serving up a healthy kids’ drink also encourages healthy choices throughout their lives.

What’s more, with childhood obesity still an epidemic and conditions like type-2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) on the rise, the beverages our kids consume are more important than ever. 

What are the new healthy kids’ drink recommendations?

So let’s take a look at the new recommendations:

All children ages 5 and under should avoid drinking:

  • Chocolate milk and strawberry milk
  • Toddler formulas such as toddler milks, growing up milks or follow-up formulas
  • Plant-based/non-dairy milks (with some exceptions).

Beverages with caffeine, low-calorie sweetened beverages including those sweetened with stevia, sucralose or labeled “diet” or “light,” sugar-sweetened drinks including soda, fruit drinks, fruit-flavored drinks, fruit-ades, sports and energy drinks, sweetened waters, and sweetened coffee and tea drinks should also be off limits.

Infants from 0 to 6 months should only have breastmilk and/or infant formula.

Babies 6 to 12 months should continue to stick with breastmilk and/or infant formula. Once they start solids, parents should offer a small amount of water at mealtimes. Introducing a few sips of water can help them get used to the taste.

Additionally, the healthy kids’ drink recommendations state babies should avoid fruit juice—even 100% fruit juice—because whole fruit has much more nutrition.

Babies 12 to 24 months can be introduced to plain, pasteurized whole milk and plain water to stay hydrated. Although the recommendations say 100% fruit juice is ok, it should be limited. An even better choice? Fresh, canned or frozen fruit without any added sugars.

Children between 2- and 5-years-old should stick with milk, ideally skim milk or low-fat (1%) and water. Again, small amounts of fruit juice are OK, but whole fruit is always better. 

If you’re looking for more details, you can read the full recommendations here.

Related: Is Chocolate Milk Good for Kids?

Do the new recommendations include non-dairy, plant-based milks?

In recent years, the amount of people interested in plant-based, non-dairy milks like almond milk, cashew milk, and oat milk have significantly increased. According to the Plant Based Foods Association, sales of plant-based milks were up 9% in 2018, worth an estimated $1.6 billion, while sales of cow’s milk were down 6%.

Despite their popularity, the organizations that developed the healthy kids’ drink recommendations say kids under 5 should avoid consuming them.

For starters, many plant-based milks have added sugars to make them taste sweet.

Although many also have added nutrients like calcium and Vitamin D, the amounts can vary by type and brand and studies show our bodies may not be able to absorb these nutrients as well as they can from cow’s milk, the panel says.

The one exception to the recommendation of avoiding plant-based milks is fortified soy milk, which stacks up nutritionally to cow’s milk.

Another caveat is that for kids who are lactose intolerant, have a dairy allergy or follow a vegan diet, unsweetened and fortified non-dairy milks may be a good idea.

Is fruit juice healthy for kids?

The new recommendations about fruit juice in particular, are a welcomed change and something I think can have a significant impact on our children’s health now and throughout their lives.

Fruit juice is often marketed to families as a healthy food for kids, especially those that are organic or not from concentrate.

Although juice has certain vitamins and nutrients and can count as a serving of fruit—a good thing if your kid is a picky eater—in reality, fruit juice is just concentrated sugar. Fruit juice also lacks fiber, something all kids need whether they’re constipated or not.

Drinking too much juice can also lead to cavities, weight gain and diarrhea.

What about healthy fruit smoothies?

The new healthy kids’ drink recommendations do not include a mention of smoothies, but I think it’s something to consider since parents often serve them to their kids to help increase their intake of fruits and vegetables.

Smoothies are often seen as a health food, yet take a look at most bottled or restaurant smoothies—yes, green smoothies too—and you’ll discover most are filled with sugar thanks to ingredients like fruit juice, honey, raw sugar and loads of fresh fruit.

Sure, fresh fruit has natural sugars and other nutrients, but sugar is sugar.

If your kids like smoothies, make your own at home, using only vegetables and fruit at an 80:20 ratio.

How much water do kids need?

Since infants 6- to 12-months-old should only be offered small sips of water at meals, between 4 and 8 ounces total for the day is enough but it shouldn’t replace breast milk and/or infant formula.

These are the recommendations for water intake for older children:

1- to 3-years old: 1 to 4 cups of water a day

4- to 5-years old: 1.5 to 5 cups a day

Tips for offering a healthy kids’ drink

Substitute sugary drinks
If your kids love juice or another sweetened beverage and you know going cold-turkey isn’t going to work, slowly swap it out.

Try adding water to juice in your kid’s sippy cup or cut down the serving size or amount of servings per day until you can nix it for good.

Encourage drinking water
Pure, simple H2O may not be your kid’s first choice, but water gives their bodies what they need and it quenches their thirst without any unnecessary calories, fat or sugar.

The best way to eliminate juice and sugary drinks from your kid’s diet is to simply stop buying it. At daycare or church for example, you can encourage the people who provide the food to eliminate it too.

Although there’s not much you can do at birthday parties for example, you can do your best to encourage your kid to drink water or milk instead or allow juice in small amounts for that day.

Simple changes like offering a cool new sippy cup, a fun straw or adding slices of strawberries or cucumbers to water, for example, can be enough to encourage them to drink up.

Talk to your pediatrician or a pediatric RDN
If you’re avoiding cow’s milk for any reason, it’s a good idea to check with your child’s pediatrician or pediatric registered dietitian nutritionist to make sure your child is getting enough key nutrients like protein, calcium and vitamin D in his diet.

What do you think about the new healthy kids’ drink recommendations? Leave me a comment.

15 Companies & Charities Dedicated to Fighting Childhood Obesity

15 Companies & Charities Dedicated to Fighting Childhood Obesity

In August when Weight Watchers rolled out weight loss app Kurbo, it released a wave of sharp criticism from health experts, eating disorder specialists and parents alike—and once again shined a spotlight on fighting childhood obesity.

Although Kurbo is certainly extreme, it’s not anything new. Just think about weight loss camps or companies who have started to sell fitness trackers for kids in recent years.

Instead of putting kids on diets, segregating food as “healthy” and “unhealthy,” and encouraging kids to track their steps every day, kids need repeated exposure to healthy foods, and they need to have healthy eating and lifestyle habits modeled for them.

So although Kurbo, fitness trackers, or any other adult weight loss solution that’s re-packaged for kids isn’t the solution, the sad truth is that we are still facing a childhood obesity epidemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity affects:

  • Nearly 14 percent of children 2- to 5-years-old.
  • More than 18 percent of 6 to 11-year olds.
  • More than 20 percent of 12 to 19-year-olds.

Of course, childhood obesity is just one part of an overall health epidemic in the U.S. Studies show kids who are overweight are at risk for other conditions including type-2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), both of which are on the rise.

Children who are obese also have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and problems with blood glucose tolerance. Obesity may also play a role in kids who have asthma, obstructive sleep apnea, joint problems and mental health problems. 

In fact, a recent study out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham found teens who consume high levels of sodium and low levels of potassium in fast food and processed foods that are linked to obesity, are more likely to develop symptoms of depression.

Most of the responsibility of preventing childhood obesity starts at home but schools and communities also play a role especially for families struggling with food insecurity.

Fortunately, there are several companies, including many start-ups, and non-profit organizations that are dedicated to fighting childhood obesity. Here are 15.

 

1. Revolutions Foods

Founded in 2006 by Kristin Groos Richmond and Kirsten Saenz Tobey, two businesswomen and moms, Revolution Foods’ mission is to build lifelong healthy eaters and provide healthy meals to every child who is food insecure. 

To date, the company has designed, produced and delivered more than 360-million

kid-inspired, chef-crafted meals to childhood education centers, school districts, charter schools, and community and after-school youth programs in 15 states. 

With their community partners, they also offer nutrition curriculum, cooking classes, gardening lessons and other education events.

2. Chef Ann Foundation 

If you’re looking to change your child’s school lunch program like I am, the Chef Ann Foundation is an excellent place to start. 

Founded in 2009 by Ann Cooper, an internationally recognized author, chef, educator, public speaker, and advocate of healthy food for all children, the Chef Ann Foundation is dedicated to providing fresh, healthy school lunch every day. 

With tools, training, resources and funding, the Foundation helps schools create healthier food and redefine lunchroom environments. 

3. No Fuss Lunch

Founded in 2012 by Gabriella Wilday, No Fuss Lunch provides kid-centric, healthy school lunches, after-school snacks and meals for summer camps that exceed the National School Lunch Program’s standards. 

Their food is made without white sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, nuts, GMO’s or MSG and is safe for kids with food allergies. 

4. YMCA

For nearly 160 years, the YMCA has made it their mission to strengthen local communities and improve the nation’s health and well-being.

With programs that provide meals to those who struggle with hunger, teach healthy eating, encourage physical activity and healthy lifestyle habits and strengthen families, the YMCA is dedicated to fighting childhood obesity.


5. Sweat Makes Cents

Sweat Makes Cents is a non-profit organization with a particular focus on supporting millennial women who want to find a solution for childhood obesity.

The organization hosts jumping jack challenges, fitness fundraisers and city fitness teams that raise funds for nationwide childhood obesity prevention programs.

6. KidsGardening

Teaching kids how to garden is one of the best ways for them to be exposed to healthy food and learn where real food comes from.

KidsGardening is a national non-profit that offers grants, programs, curriculum, contests, and activities to create opportunities for kids to play, learn and grow through gardening. Approximately 70 % of the teachers who receive their grants say their students have improved attitudes about nutrition. In 2018, KidsGardening reached approximately 920,000 kids.

7. City Blossoms

City Blossoms is a Washington, D.C-based non-profit organization that develops creative, kid-driven green spaces. Their focus is on a combination of gardens, science, art, healthy living, and community building and they work with community-based organizations, neighborhood groups, schools, and learnings centers in the Washington D.C area and across the U.S.

8. Power of Produce (POP) Club

Bringing kids to farmers’ market is a great way to encourage access to healthy food and teach healthy eating habits which can go a long way in fighting childhood obesity.

At Power of Produce (POP) Club at the Oregon City Farmers Market kids get $2 every time they visit the farm to purchase their own fruits and vegetables, and they lean how to plant sunflower seeds, and make salads and jam, for example.

Related: 5 Reasons You Should Bring Your Kids To The Farmers Market

9. Hungry Harvest

Founded in 2014 and featured on Shark Tank, Hungry Harvest rescues “ugly” fruits and vegetables from farmers that would otherwise go to waste and sells them in discounted subscription boxes.

For every Hungry Harvest delivery, they also offer their reduced cost produce to SNAP (food stamps) markets and donate to local organizations whose mission is to solve hunger. To date, they have provided more than 750,000 pounds of produce to SNAP reduced-cost markets, food banks and local nonprofits.

10. Farm to School

The National Farm to School Network is an information, advocacy and networking hub that sources local food to be served in schools, establishes school gardens, and brings food and agriculture education into schools.

11. DrumFit

DrumFit, a cardio drumming physical education program for schools, is on a mission to teach kids to love cardio fitness for life. The company provides online video content, lesson plans and routines.

12. The Adventures of Super Stretch

The Adventures of Super Stretch app is a children’s yoga program that can be done at home, and in daycares, schools, and after-school programs. Free, iTunes and Google Play.

13. KaBOOM!

KaBOOM! is a national non-profit that creates safe, community-based play spaces.

Over the last 20 years they have built or improved more than 17,000 play spaces and in 2018 they built more than 3100 playgrounds. KaBOOM! teams up with funding partners to build safe spaces in one day.

14. My First Workout

Founded by Michelle Mille, a certified personal trainer and mom, My First Workout is designed to connect parents with their children and pull kids away from the technology and sedentary behaviors linked to childhood obesity.

The step-by-step strength and conditioning program is designed for kids 5- to 10- years-old and includes fitness equipment, a video and a poster so parents can feel confident performing the exercises with their kids.

15. Wholesome Wave

Wholesome Wave is a national non-profit that makes healthy food accessible and affordable for families who struggle with food insecurity through two types of programs.

Doubling Snap allows people with SNAP (food stamps) benefits to receive double the value to spend on produce at select farmers’ markets and grocery stores. Through their Produce Prescriptions program, people receive produce vouchers from participating hospitals and clinics to purchase fruits and vegetables. In 2017, Wholesome Wave reached more than 973,000 people.

Is Chocolate Milk Good For Kids?

Is Chocolate Milk Good For Kids?

My kids like to drink milk, but it’s not something they drink often. After interviewing experts about the benefits and drawbacks of different types of milk for this Fox News story, I was sold on the research that shows cow’s milk is inflammatory, linked to a host of diseases, and it’s not even the best source of calcium in the first place. From time to time, my kids also indulge in chocolate milk but it’s usually for a special occasion. Lately, I’ve been thinking more and more about why school lunch isn’t healthy and its link to childhood obesity, and because it’s on the school lunch menu, it begs the question, is chocolate milk good for kids?

Is Chocolate Milk Good for Kids?

Benefits of drinking chocolate milk

In schools, serving chocolate milk is seen by proponents as a way to encourage kids to drink milk when they otherwise wouldn’t.

According to DairyMAX, a non-profit organization affiliate of the Dairy Council, flavored milk is good for kids for some of the following reasons:

 

  • Kids who drink flavored milk drink more milk overall.
  • Kids who consume flavored milk get more nutrients than kids who don’t drink milk.
  • Kids who drink flavored milk are less likely to drink soda and juice.

When it comes to the benefits of chocolate milk, let’s take a look at the nutritional composition of one cup of  low-fat chocolate milk:

 

Calories: 157

Protein:  8.1 grams

Carbohydrates: 26.1 grams

Dietary fiber: 1.2 grams

Sugars: 24.8 grams

Fat: 2.5 grams

Calcium: 29 %DV

Vitamin D: 25 %DV

Riboflavin:  24 %DV

Phosphorus: 26 %DV

Milk also has other nutrients like vitamins A, B6, B12, magnesium, niacin, selenium and zinc, as well as omega-3 fatty acids.

Related: 5 Foods With Healthy Fats Your Kids Will Love

There’s no doubt chocolate milk has some nutritional value, including calcium, which kids need for strong teeth and bones.

Yet there are far better sources of calcium than milk, which also don’t contain growth hormones, allergenic proteins and antibiotics.

Some include:

  • Chia seeds
  • Black turtle beans
  • Sardines (my kids love them!)
  • Sesame seeds
  • Almonds
  • Rhubarb
  • Tofu
  • Spinach
  • Bok choy
  • Collard greens
  • Salmon
  • Figs
  • Kale
  • Collard greens
  • Spinach
  • Turnip greens

 

Is chocolate milk good for kids as a post-workout recovery drink?

In addition to school lunch, chocolate milk is also often promoted as a post-workout recovery drink for athletes.

Thanks to its’ protein, carbohydrates, fat and water and electrolytes, chocolate milk may be a great recovery drink that rebuilds and refuels muscles, according to research out of the University of Connecticut.

In fact, a June 2018 meta-analysis in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found drinking chocolate milk has similar—or superior—results compared to either water or other sports drinks.

However, it’s important to note that the authors say this isn’t definitive and more research is needed.

Interestingly, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says flavored milk in schools is OK, but instead of sports and energy drinks (which are also high in sugar) after a workout, water is best. Sort of contradictory, right?

 

Drawbacks of drinking chocolate milk

Although it’s a good (but not the best) source of calcium for strong teeth and bones, as you can see, chocolate milk is high in sugar: 24 grams or more sugar than a Mr. Goodbar!

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend we limit sugar to no more than 10 percent of our total calories for the day.

For kids 2 and older, they should have less than 25 grams of added sugar a day.

Diets high in sugar are proven to lead to weight gain and obesity, type-2 diabetes, fatty liver disease and heart disease—all conditions that can follow kids throughout their lives.

Chocolate milk, as well as soda, sweetened ice teas, lemonade, sports and energy drinks, fruit punch, and apple juice already make up a majority of the amount of sugar kids get in their diets.

In fact, between 2011 and 2014, 63 percent of kids consumed a sugar-sweetened beverage on any given day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The other drawback of drinking chocolate milk is that some brands add artificial ingredients and additives.

One more thing to consider is the motivation behind serving chocolate milk in schools.

Despite a lack of evidence that milk is the best food to build strong bones—and may actually lead to more fractures—the government mandates schools serve milk at every meal because they can’t get their federal lunch money unless they do, Dr. Mark Hyman states in his book, “Food: What The Heck Should I Eat.

Although studies show that when chocolate milk is removed from school lunch menus, milk consumption drops, I’m not so sure this is a bad thing.

In fact, in February 2019, The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine called on the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to update the new guidelines to include a warning about the health dangers of dairy.

Regardless of where you stand on giving your kids regular milk or chocolate milk, I think it’s a good idea to take stock of their diets overall.

For example, if your child eats a mainly whole foods diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy protein and fats, and whole grains, there’s probably nothing wrong with serving up chocolate milk for an occasional treat or dessert.

If your kids already eat a lot of sugar however, including sneaky sugars like those found in yogurt, cereal, dressings, sauces and dried and canned fruits, chocolate milk isn’t going to do their bodies any good.

Let me know what you think: is chocolate milk good for kids? Leave me a comment.

Is School Lunch To Blame For Childhood Obesity?

Is School Lunch To Blame For Childhood Obesity?

We all know the sobering statistics: 30 percent of kids in the U.S. are overweight or obese. We also know that consuming high-calorie, low nutrient foods like fast food, processed foods and sugary drinks, spending too much time watching TV or in front of devices, and lack of exercise and sleep are to blame. But there’s another topic that’s been debated in recent years: is school lunch to blame for childhood obesity?

Is cafeteria food healthy?

The USDA’s National School Lunch Program (NSLP), a program that provides federally subsidized school lunch and breakfast, serves more than 30 million kids in the U.S. every day.

Something that surprised me as I was conducting research is that 50 percent of the calories kids consume are at school.

This is particular important for kids who receive free and reduced lunch since what they eat at school can make up a significant amount of the nutrition they get all day.

When the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was passed, the goal was to provide healthier school lunches.

Schools participating in the NSLP made some positive changes to their menus like adding more fruits and vegetables and whole grains, limiting the amount of calories and reducing the amount of sodium in meals.

The good news is that the changes seemed to work.

In April 2019, the USDA released the “School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study,” which found the Healthy Eating Index, or the nutritional quality of school lunches, increased 41 percent between school years 2009-2010 and 2014-15.

Another win is that studies show when school lunches became healthier, kids ate more entrees, vegetables and fruit. 

In December 2018 however, the Trump administration rolled back the school lunch standards, giving schools even more flexibility to serve foods that are within a budget but only worsen our kids’ health.

With the new changes in effect, schools can now offer 1% chocolate milk and strawberry milk and keep the same levels of sodium in meals, instead of reducing it.

School are also only required to have half of the grains on the menu be whole grains.

Whether the schools stick to the old guidelines or not, I’m not convinced that school lunch is healthy to begin with.

Let’s take my kids’ school lunch menu as an example.

Nearly all of the items that are offered are highly-processed, made with factory-farmed animal products, and are frozen foods that come out of a package.

Take a look at some of the foods they offer:

  • crispy chicken patty          
  • general tso’s chicken
  • beef nachos with tortilla chips 
  • hot dogs                  
  • tater tots
  • processed deli meats and cheeses                                                
  • popcorn chicken
  • chicken nuggets
  • mozzarella sticks
  • pizza
  • hamburgers and cheeseburgers
  • French toast sticks
  • Bosco sticks (breadsticks)

There are also several items on the school lunch menu that are high in sugar, including:

Of course, diets high in processed foods and sugar are associated with increased rates of childhood obesity.

Another factor to consider is that with a menu that’s made up of mostly foods like chicken nuggets, mozzarella sticks, macaroni and cheese and other kid-friendly foods, we’re explicitly teaching our kids this is a healthy way to eat.

Instead of having a plate made where fruits and vegetables are front and center, in the school cafeteria, they’re presented in a way that makes them look like they’re a side dish.

Plus, take a look at the nutritional value of some of these foods.

Consider the pancakes that the USDA encourages schools to offer as “breakfast for lunch.” With only 2 grams of protein, 1 gram of fiber and 3 grams of sugar, it’s definitely not what our kids should be eating.


School lunch might be healthy, but fruits and vegetables are being thrown in the trash

Another concern with school lunch is the amount of food that is wasted everyday.

One study estimates that the food thrown in the garbage at school accounts for $1.2 billion annually.

If you’ve had lunch with your kid (something I recommend you do), you know how crowded, loud and chaotic it is, particularly in the elementary schools.

According to a January 2016 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, kids who had 20 minutes or less to eat lunch consumed 13 percent less of their entrees, 12 percent less of their vegetables, and 10 percent less of milk compared to kids who had 25 minutes or more to eat. There was also more food waste for kids who had less time to eat.

Yet more time to eat lunch, quieter cafeterias, and less crowding is associated with higher consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, a January 2019 study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found.

So although kids might be offered healthy school lunches, if they’re not eating them, what’s the point?

If fruits and vegetables are being tossed, kids aren’t getting the fiber and water content these foods provide which satisfy hunger and aid in weight control.

Furthermore, if kids aren’t eating foods that fill them up, chances are they’re making up for it with processed snacks at other times of the day.

Is school lunch to blame for childhood obesity?

A 2009 report out of Northwestern University (before the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed), suggests kids who eat school lunch are more likely to be overweight or obese than those who bring lunch from home.

What’s more, kids who are eligible for free and reduced lunch weigh significantly more than kids who are ineligible by the end of first grade.

The research that has looked specifically at girls is also important to note.

According to an April 2011 study in JAMA Pediatrics, the average Body Mass Index (BMI) for girls from low-income families who consumed lunches in the NSLP was the same for those who did not. However, girls who consumed the lunches gained weight faster and the differences between the two groups were significant. 

What is the school’s role in preventing childhood obesity?

When it comes to the responsibility of schools to offer healthy school lunches and do their part in preventing childhood obesity, parents say they play a significant role.

According to a June 2013 survey by Kaiser Permanente, 90 percent of Americans say schools should play the biggest community role in fighting childhood obesity.

Plus, according to a January 2019 survey by Revolution Foods, a provider of healthy school meals, 66 percent of parents say that while they and the schools should share the responsibility of offering and teaching kids about nutrition, they look to the schools to encourage healthy eating habits and offer healthy, delicious meals throughout the year.

 


Preventing childhood obesity starts with parents

If kids eat lunch every day at school, or even once in awhile, schools certainly play a role in the food that is being served, how it is served and the environment in which it is consumed.

Although I believe that schools have some responsibility for preventing childhood obesity, like anything else when it comes to our kids, childhood obesity starts with us.


Related: Are Parents To Blame For Childhood Obesity?


In fact, a June 2019 study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior suggests that parents play an integral role in preventing childhood obesity.

In the study, researchers looked at two groups of parents: a Health Education group who were mailed information about nutrition and parenting strategies to make changes and the Developing Relationships that Include Values of Eating and Exercise (DRIVE) group, made up of parents who met with a psychologist and nutritionist. This group was encouraged to plan healthy meals, reduce the amount of screen time and move more.

The result? Researchers found kids in the DRIVE group gained less weight than the less intervention group.

Kids learn from their parents so if we’re not serving healthy food, teaching healthy eating habits and encouraging our kids to move more, get sleep and have healthy lifestyle habits—and show them how we do the same— we can’t blame the schools for childhood obesity.

Here are some tips to consider.

Serve fruits and vegetables as much as possible
Do your best to include fruits and vegetables at every meal and snack, which will give your kids the nutrition they need, help satisfy their hunger, and prevent overeating.

Make healthy food visible and accessible
According to the 2010 White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity report, “children’s choices depend on what is most visible and easily accessible.”

So resist the urge to stock your pantry with chips, crackers and cookies and other types of fake food and put healthy food at eye level.

Also, spend 30 minutes or so on the weekend to wash and cut up fruits and vegetables and store them in clear glass containers front and center in the refrigerator.

Cook healthy meals
Studies show kids who consistently eat meals with their families are healthier kids overall and are less likely to become obese.

Cooking healthy meals also shows kids what real food and a healthy plate look like and can help prevent picky eating.

Teach healthy eating habits
Lead by example and show kids how to eat slowly and mindfully, eat sitting at the table (instead of in the car or in front of the TV,) and how to recognize their hunger and satiety signals. Also, avoid using food as a reward.

Move more
Kids should get 60 minutes of exercise everyday and although it can be challenging to find the time, your kids won’t be motivated to be active if you’re not.

Try to take walks after dinner, have an indoor “dance party” on rainy or snow days or play Twister.   

 

What do you think: is school lunch to blame for childhood obesity? Let me know in the comments.

11 Healthy Breakfast Ideas For Kids

11 Healthy Breakfast Ideas For Kids

Growing up in the 80’s, breakfast usually consisted of cereal: Cheerios, Corn Flakes, Cinnamon Toast Crunch (still my favorite!), and Honey Bunches of Oats. Today, so much has changed and although as parents we want meals to be easy and fast, we also need healthy breakfast ideas that are packed with protein, filled with fiber and have plenty of vitamins and minerals.

Another thing that’s changed over the years is that because of our kids’ dietary restrictions, food allergies, food preferences and picky eating behaviors, we as moms have found ourselves focused on things like:

  • Gluten-free
  • Dairy-free
  • Plant-based
  • Vegetarian
  • Vegan
  • Low-carb
  • High-protein
  • Nut-free

So despite all of the choices we have, we’re all short on time (and patience!) and can’t sift through the tons of healthy breakfast recipes that will work for our kids. As a result, we tend to serve the same breakfasts day after day.

Nevertheless, the old adage, breakfast is the most important part of the day, still holds true today. So busting through the boredom and having healthy breakfast ideas you can put into rotation will help your kids thrive—and make your hectic life a bit easier.

 

Benefits of a healthy breakfast for kids

Serving up a healthy breakfast daily can:

  • Give kids the nutrition the need for healthy growth and development
  • Provide the energy they need at school
  • Help them stay alert and focused
  • Prevent weight gain, childhood obesity and type-2 diabetes
  • Improve their mood and behavior

 

More nutrition

Kids who eat breakfast everyday have a higher daily consumption of key nutrients such as folate, calcium, iron and iodine than those who skip breakfast, according to a August 2017 study in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Lower risk of weight gain and childhood obesity

According to a March 2016 study in the journal Pediatric Obesity, kids who ate breakfast at school, even if they already had breakfast at home, were less likely to be overweight or obese than those who didn’t eat breakfast.

Although I don’t think we should encourage our children to eat two breakfasts, eating even a small, healthy breakfast can go a long way.

Lower risk of type-2 diabetes

According to a September 2014 study in the journal PLOS Medicine, 9 and 10-year-old children who reported regularly skipping breakfast had 26 percent higher levels of insulin in their blood after a fasting period and 26 percent higher levels of insulin resistance, a risk factor for type-2 diabetes, than children who ate breakfast every day.

A healthy breakfast helps to balance your child’s blood sugar and give him a steady amount of energy until lunchtime.

Better mood, behavior and body image

You know the feeling when you’re hangry: you’re tired, irritable and on edge. And your kids are no different.

When kids skip breakfast, their energy and blood sugar dips, which affects their mood and behavior. If your kids are snappy with you, have frequent meltdowns or seem cranky, try feeding them a healthy breakfast.

What’s more, a February 2019 study in the journal Social Work In Public Health found teens who eat breakfast with their families have a stronger body image than those who skip the meal.

Improved academic performance

Kids need to eat a healthy breakfast because it’s nearly impossible to stay focused and concentrate on anything when you’re hungry.

Breakfast fuels their bodies with the key nutrients they need to listen, learn, understand, complete tasks and boost their overall function at school.

In fact, a June 2016 study in the journal Public Health Nutrition, which included 5,000 kids, found those who ate breakfast and those who ate a better quality breakfast, were twice as likely to do better in school than those who didn’t.

 

What should a healthy breakfast include?

 

Vegetables

I know it sounds like a pipe dream, but the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend kids eat vegetables at every meal and snack. Depending on your kid’s age, they need between 1 and 3 cups of vegetables a day.

Serving vegetables at breakfast is actually a great opportunity to teach kids what a healthy meal looks like. And the more opportunities they have to eat vegetables, the more likely they will.

When kids eat vegetables at breakfast, they’ll get the nutrition they need for their  growth and development and to help prevent serious health conditions as they get older. Vegetables are also filled with fiber which will help them stay satiated and may prevent weight gain.

Related: 7 Ways to Feed Kids Vegetables for Breakfast


Fruit

Fresh, whole fruit has plenty of vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber and water which kids not only need to thrive, but promotes feelings of satiety and can prevent constipation.

Protein

Protein helps to build muscle, carry nutrients through the body, regulate hormones, and strengthen skin and bones. Making sure to include protein with breakfast staves off hunger, balances blood sugar and can prevent weight gain.

Whole grains

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 50 percent of the grains we eat be made up of whole grains, which are a great source of B vitamins, zinc, magnesium and fiber. Unlike white, refined grains, whole grains do a better job of satisfying hunger and balancing your kid’s blood sugar levels.

Healthy fats

We now know that fats are not the villain they were made out to be for years. Healthy fats like those found in fish, avocado and nuts are a vital source of energy for our kids and help satisfy their hunger.

Fats are essential for healthy cell membranes, they support kids’ brains and the growth and development of their nervous systems, and help their bodies absorb fat-soluble vitamins like  A, D, E, and K. Fat are also necessary to make hormones and immune cells and they help regulate inflammation and metabolism.   

 


Healthy breakfast ideas with eggs

With nearly 30 grams of protein in one large egg, plus several key nutrients like potassium, vitamin D, B vitamins, lutein and omega-3 fatty acids, eggs are one of the healthiest foods you can feed your kids.

Hard-boiled eggs

Boiling a batch of hard-boiled eggs in the beginning of the week is the ultimate time saver and ensures you’ll have a quick and healthy breakfast that’s also a great option when you’re rushing out the door in the morning. Pair eggs with veggies, a fruit and whole grain option and you’re set.

Egg muffin cups

The great thing about egg muffin cups is that you can make a batch and have a quick and easy option ready to go. You can also customize the egg muffins with leftover vegetables and your choice of meat and cheese—or none at all.

Try this recipe: Veggie Egg Muffins

Frittata or quiche

Using eggs in a frittata, quiche or breakfast casserole is easy and a great way to serve vegetables for breakfast. Try this recipe: Broccoli, Cheddar & Spinach Frittata

Breakfast burrito

A breakfast burrito with eggs, veggies and beans is a great healthy breakfast to have on hand.

Beans are an excellent source of protein and fiber which will give your kids plenty of energy and brain power until lunch time. Also, the more often you serve them—at breakfast or at other meals—the more likely your kids will eat them.

Try putting out beans with their favorite extras: salsa, avocado, cheese and a whole wheat tortilla and let them make their own breakfast burrito.

 

Healthy breakfast ideas without eggs

Healthy overnight oats

Cooking oatmeal in the morning takes time but putting together individual mason jars of overnight oats takes just a few minutes. Start with rolled oats (I like Bob’s Red Mill) and add milk, fruit and chia seeds and you have a healthy and easy egg-free breakfast ready by the time your kids wake up.

Baked oatmeal

Baked oatmeal is my (and my kids’) new favorite way to serve up a healthy breakfast. Instead of waiting for oatmeal to cook on the stovetop, you simply add your ingredients to a loaf pan, bake it the night before and you have breakfast for a few days. Try this recipe: Baked Oatmeal With Pumpkin and Bananas.

Healthy breakfast smoothies and smoothie bowls

I’m not a fan of pureeing vegetables and sneaking them into meals so kids will eat them, but when you make a green smoothie or a smoothie bowl, it’s no secret what they’re eating.

Smoothies are a great way to feed kids vegetables for breakfast and get several servings in at once. A good rule of thumb when making smoothies or juices is to use 80 percent vegetables and 20 percent fruit. Add protein like your kid’s favorite nut or seed butter and serve with whole grain toast.

Yogurt parfait

Greek yogurt is an excellent source of calcium and protein and a parfait for breakfast couldn’t easier. Since most yogurt brands have plenty of added sugar, stick with plain Greek yogurt and add fresh fruit like raspberries and a low-sugar granola for extra fiber.

Related: How To Choose a Healthy Kids’ Yogurt


Avocado toast

Avocado is chock full of nutrition, and high in fiber and healthy fats. When it’s paired with whole grain toast and vegetables and fruit, it also makes for a healthy and easy egg-free breakfast.


Protein bars

Grabbing a protein or breakfast bar is quick and simple, but most bars are high in sugar and contain artificial ingredients. Read labels carefully and look for those with protein, fiber and low sugar.  Or, make your own breakfast bars with whole ingredients like oats, dried fruit and nuts or seeds.

Healthy breakfast pudding

Pumpkin is one of the healthiest foods you can feed your kids so I was so excited when—after interviewing Danielle Walker of AgainstAllGrain.com—I discovered her delicious recipe for Paleo Pumpkin Chia Seed Pudding.

If you’re trying to avoid gluten or simply looking for new breakfast options, try it out. My kids loved it and it was so quick and easy to make.


What are some of your favorite healthy breakfast ideas? Let me know in the comments.

[VIDEO] 10 Healthy Back To School Tips For Moms

[VIDEO] 10 Healthy Back To School Tips For Moms

When my daughters go back to school in a few short weeks, I’m trying to prepare myself for what happens every school year: they get sick.

Within weeks of returning to school last year, my older daughter would get a fever one day and then be fine the next. Despite my nagging to “wash your hands” and “keep your hands out of your mouth,” she missed several days of school.

I don’t want her to be sick of course, but as a working mom, all those sick days at home makes work challenging and adds another layer of stress to my already chaotic life.

It turns out, I’m not alone in feeling the back to school stress, especially when it comes to everything that has to get done. According to a survey by Coupons.com, 50 percent of moms with kids in school say shopping for and packing school lunches makes them feel stressed.

So here’s the good news: there are some easy, healthy back to school tips that can go a long way in helping to keep your kids healthy and you from pulling your hair out. Here are 10.

 

 

1. Don’t overthink healthy back to school lunches

Those photos of beautifully crafted bento boxes for school lunches that fill up your Instagram feed can definitely give you some inspiration, but who has time to make fruit into animal shapes and sandwiches into pinwheels?

Instead, stick to the basics.

Have a list of go-to foods that are healthy and quick, re-purpose leftovers, batch cook ahead of time, and set aside individual portions of grab and go snacks.

Also, focus on whole foods instead of processed foods: fruits and vegetables, lean protein sources, beans and legumes, whole grains and calcium-rich foods.

Related: 7 Hacks for Stress-Free School Lunches

2. Teach kids to wash their hands

Kids under the age of 6 in particular get 8 to 10 colds a year, not including the countless fevers, infections and stomach bugs they’ll get this year.

Although it’s probably inevitable that your kids will get sick, one thing you’ll want to do your best to avoid is the flu.

Last year, despite my entire family getting our flu shots, we still got the flu and it was horrible. In kids under 5, the flu can be dangerous, even deadly.

The flu spreads quickly, especially because at school, kids are in close contact.

So one of the best healthy back to school tips to garner is to teach your kids the importance of washing their hands.

Teaching your kids proper hand washing can prevent the spread of infection and cut down on the amount of times they get sick.

Show kids how to wash with warm water and soap, wash all surfaces of their hands including their fingernails and in between their fingers, and wash while singing “Happy Birthday” twice.

Also, remind kids to sneeze in their arm—not their hands—to prevent the spread of germs.

3. Don’t forget about healthy back to school snacks

According to a survey published in 2014 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 6 in 10 children don’t eat enough fruit and 9 in 10 don’t eat enough vegetables.

Yet studies show eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower blood pressure, balance blood sugar, prevent weight gain and childhood obesity, reduce the risk for eye and digestive problems, heart disease and stroke, and prevent certain types of cancer.

Of course, when kids eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables it lays the foundation for healthy eating throughout their lifetimes.

So when it comes to healthy back to school snacks, do your best to swap crackers, pretzels and fruit gummies for fruits and vegetables.

 

Looking for crazy, easy ways to get your kids to eat their vegetables? Check out my video:

 

 

4. Add probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods

Another way to boost your child’s immunity is by serving up plenty of foods with probiotics, or the healthy, live microorganisms found in the gut. Probiotic-rich foods include yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and naturally fermented vegetables, including sauerkraut and pickles.

It’s also a good idea to include foods rich in prebiotics, which are non-digestible food ingredients that work with probiotics to boost your child’s immunity.

Prebiotic rich foods include onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, bananas and Jerusalem artichokes.

5. Making sleep a priority is one of the best healthy back to school tips

According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2014 Sleep in America poll, many kids don’t get enough sleep and some get less than their parents think they need. 

Not only can lack of sleep affect your kid’s energy levels, mood and behavior, and performance in school and on the field, sleep deprivation can also affect their weight.

When kids are sleep-deprived, the hormones that affect appetite can get all out of whack.

Ghrelin, “the hunger hormone” which tells our bodies to eat, ramps up while leptin, a hormone that decreases appetite, slows down, making it more likely that your kid will overeat.

Power down devices 1 to 2 hours before bed time, use black-out shades and help your kids wind down before bed with a story, prayer and some snuggle time.

5. Carve out time for breakfast

According to an August 2017 study in the British Journal of Nutrition, only about one-third of kids eat breakfast every day, 17 percent never eat breakfast and the rest only eat breakfast a fews days a week.

Yet kids who eat breakfast everyday have a higher daily consumption of key nutrients such as folate, calcium, iron and iodine than those who skip breakfast, the same study found.

Eating a healthy breakfast gives kid the energy and focus they need to get through the day, and they may even do better in school.

In fact, a June 2016 study in the journal Public Health Nutrition, which included 5,000 kids, found those who ate breakfast and those who ate a better quality breakfast, were twice as likely to do better in school than those who didn’t.

Eating breakfast is also associated with a lower risk for obesity and serious health conditions.

According to a March 2016 study in the journal Pediatric Obesity, kids who ate breakfast at school, even if they already had breakfast at home, were less likely to be overweight or obese than those who didn’t eat breakfast.

And a September 2014 study in the journal PLOS Medicine found 9 and 10-year-old children who reported regularly skipping breakfast had 26 percent higher levels of insulin in their blood after a fasting period and 26 percent higher levels of insulin resistance, a risk factor for type-2 diabetes, than children who ate breakfast every day.

If your kids don’t have an appetite in the morning or don’t have enough time, try moving back their bed time and getting them up earlier.

Related: 7 Ways To Get Your Kids To Eat a Healthy Breakfast

6. Carve out time for breakfast

According to an August 2017 study in the British Journal of Nutrition, only about one-third of kids eat breakfast every day, 17 percent never eat breakfast and the rest only eat breakfast a fews days a week.

Yet kids who eat breakfast everyday have a higher daily consumption of key nutrients such as folate, calcium, iron and iodine than those who skip breakfast, the same study found.

Eating a healthy breakfast gives kid the energy and focus they need to get through the day, and they may even do better in school.

In fact, a June 2016 study in the journal Public Health Nutrition, which included 5,000 kids, found those who ate breakfast and those who ate a better quality breakfast, were twice as likely to do better in school than those who didn’t.

Eating breakfast is also associated with a lower risk for obesity and serious health conditions.

According to a March 2016 study in the journal Pediatric Obesity, kids who ate breakfast at school, even if they already had breakfast at home, were less likely to be overweight or obese than those who didn’t eat breakfast.

And a September 2014 study in the journal PLOS Medicine found 9 and 10-year-old children who reported regularly skipping breakfast had 26 percent higher levels of insulin in their blood after a fasting period and 26 percent higher levels of insulin resistance, a risk factor for type-2 diabetes, than children who ate breakfast every day.

If your kids don’t have an appetite in the morning or don’t have enough time, try moving back their bed time and getting them up earlier.

Related: 7 Ways To Get Your Kids To Eat a Healthy Breakfast

7. Move more

My kids are constantly in motion and although I take them to the park and for bike rides, I still find getting them 60 minutes exercise a day a challenge.

Nevertheless, I do my best to make sure they get some form of exercise in every day.

Exercise has so many benefits for kids, and as it turns out, can improve their gut health and immunity. In fact, a study in the journal Gut shows exercise may diversity gut microbes.

During the dog days of winter or on snow days when you can’t get out, put on music and have a dance party or enjoy a game of Twister.

8. Help kids cope with anxiety

Most healthy back to school tips focus on physical health, but let’s talk about mental health for a second.

According to a June 2018 study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, between 2007 and 2012 the amount of children between ages 6 and 7 with anxiety increased by 20 percent.

There are a lot of factors that play into a person’s propensity to develop anxiety and depression like genetics and family history, trauma and environment.

As someone who has had anxiety since childhood, I can tell you it’s not a crutch or a character flaw.

Anxiety is real so recognizing the signs is key.

Teaching kids techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and meditation can all be helpful. If you suspect your child has an anxiety disorder or you simply need help coping, seek out a therapist who can offer treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Related: 5 Reasons Why Healthy Eating Makes Kids Happy

9. Make an appointment for an eye exam

Since vision problems can sometimes look like problems with focus and concentration or reading difficulties, and they can go undiagnosed. That’s why it’s a good idea to get a routine eye exam.

Another factor to consider is the effects electronic devices are having on kids’ eye health. According to a 2015 survey by the American Optometric Association (AOA), 41 percent of parents say their kids spend three or more hours a day using digital devices.

Digital eye strain can cause burning, itchy or tired eyes, headaches, fatigue, loss of focus, blurred vision, double vision or head and neck pain, according to AOA.

Research also suggests that the blue light these devices emit may affect vision and lead to age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which can cause blindness down the line.   

Related: 5 Best Foods For Healthy Eyes

10. And finally, one of the best healthy back to school tips? Learn to say “no”

Between homework, after-school activities and coordinating schedules, if you’re like me, you don’t stop all day.

I also find nearly every week there are extras that the schools ask you to help out with like school fundraisers, classroom parties and field trips.

I particular dislike “crazy hair day,” and “silly socks day,” that I just don’t have time for.

My advice is to get good at saying no. Sure, homework is a priority, but running the bake sale? Not so much.

Also, carve out some me-time anywhere you can get it.

Maybe it’s your favorite early morning class at the gym, meeting a friend for coffee on Saturday morning, or just taking 10 minutes to meditate after the kids go to sleep.

Whatever me-time looks like for you, put your oxygen mask on first. It will make you a better mom and better equipped to handle the school year. 

10 Easy and Healthy School Lunch Ideas

10 Easy and Healthy School Lunch Ideas

When it comes to packing a healthy school lunch, do you often find yourself in a rut, relying on the same ho-hum foods every day?

I certainly do.

Call me boring, but in an effort to make things easy for myself and my husband, I cook a large batch of lentil stew on Sunday that lasts most of the week.

We definitely switch things up a bit and use leftover chicken or salmon, make egg salad or crack open a can of sardines, but the key for us is that school lunch is healthy, quick and easy.

The funny thing is that my kids actually don’t seem to mind eating the same school lunches over and over again.

Still, I know that exposing them to a wide variety of foods is important if I want to raise kids who are healthy, adventurous foodies.

So on a quest for creative, easy and healthy school lunches, I found some great options.

All of these ideas were developed from nutritionists, so they have a guaranteed health stamp of approval, and they’re super quick to boot.

Related: 10 Best Tips For Packing a Healthy School Lunch

10 Best Tips For Packing a Healthy School Lunch

10 Best Tips For Packing a Healthy School Lunch

Back to school season is right around the corner—please, contain your excitement! But after you go shopping for clothes, gear and everything else, chances are you’ll be thinking about packing a healthy school lunch every day especially if you (like me) think school lunches served in the cafeteria are some of the worst.

When you pack lunch with the right balance of nutrition, your kids will have the energy and focus they need to make it through the day.

Packing a healthy school lunch everyday is also an opportunity to switch things up and introduce a variety of foods that your kids can grow to love—even if they come home with it untouched at first.

From what foods to include, and which ones to leave out, of your kid’s lunch box, here are my best tips.

1. Start with fruit and vegetables

You might think that the foods you pack are healthy, but there’s some research that shows many parents actually miss the mark.

According to a July 2014 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, only 27 percent of the lunches from more than 600 kids surveyed met at least three of the five National School Lunch Program standards, which include things like including whole grains and cutting sodium.

One of the best tips for packing a healthy school lunch is to start by including a fruit and a vegetable—which should make up 50 percent of your kid’s lunch box. 

Fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber, which will  help to satisfy your kid’s hunger and help him feel fuller longer. 

2. Always include protein

Protein is important for your kid’s growth and development and meals with protein keep hunger at bay, balance your child’s blood sugar and give her enough energy to keep up at school.

Protein should make up 1/4 of a healthy school lunch but you’ll want to focus on lean, quality protein sources instead of processed foods like deli meats and cheeses or hot dogs.

Instead, stick with chicken, beef, turkey, beans, edamame, tempeh, eggs, fish and seafood.

Related:  What Types of Fish Are Safe For Kids?

3. Choose whole grains

Grains should make up about 1/4 of your kid’s lunch box but do your best to focus on whole grains like whole grain bread, pasta, brown rice, quinoa or another type of gluten-free grain.

Whole grains have vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and filling fiber, which are stripped from refined grains.

4. Add a source of calcium

The USDA MyPlate recommends milk or sources of dairy with meals because of the calcium kids need for strong teeth and bones. 

If your kids are dairy-free, or you’re trying to avoid dairy, they can still get plenty of calcium from green leafy vegetables, chia seeds and other calcium-rich foods that aren’t dairy.

5. Upgrade your PB&J

A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is an easy, affordable and a sure-fire way to get your picky eater to eat lunch.

Look at most brands of peanut butter however, and you’ll discover they’re filled with oils, sugar and salt. Most types of jelly and fruit preserves are high in sugar too.

Read labels and look for peanut butter or another type of nut butter with minimal ingredients. I like Smucker’s Natural Peanut Butter or Justin’s. Instead of jelly, mash up fresh raspberries for a delicious, fiber-rich option.

6. Switch it up with seasonal eats

Do your best to help your kid “eat the rainbow” and offer a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Also, consider including in-season fruits and vegetables which are fresher and can be more affordable.

Cauliflower, cabbage, pumpkin and figs are great choices for the back to school season.

Related: 5 Health Benefits of Figs

If your kid is a picky eater however, pack fruits and vegetables you know he’ll eat. After a few weeks, start to add in small amounts (a teaspoon will do) of new fruits and vegetables you’d like him to try.

If you’re consistent, he may eventually come around and they may even become his new favorite foods.

7. Get a cool lunch box

A bento box is a great way to pack a variety of foods and plenty of nutrition into a school lunch that your kid will love.

8. Stick to real food

Most processed, packaged foods are loaded with sodium, sugar, saturated fat, and artificial ingredients you can’t identify or pronounce. They also lack fiber and the vitamins and minerals kids need in their diets.

What’s more, experts say the more processed foods you eat and the longer you eat them, the higher your risk for inflammation, leaky gut syndrome, and a host of health conditions in the future.

Although you may not be able to completely eliminate processed foods in one fell swoop, try to replace fruit gummy snacks with fresh fruit or a bag of pretzels with seeds, for example.

Related: 5 Healthy After-School Snacks

9. Offer water instead of sugary drinks and juice

Juice boxes and pouches are convenient especially for school lunch but juice—yes, even the organic kind—doesn’t have a place in a child’s diet unless you don’t have access to fresh fruit or your kid won’t eat any fruit.

Drinking water is always a better alternative and a good habit to get your kids into. Yet if they snub plain water, add slices of cucumber, strawberries, or lemon into their water bottles for a little sweetness and hint of flavor.

10. Stick with it

There’s no doubt your kids will be envious of what other kids are eating for lunch, complain that they don’t like what you’re packing, or refuse to eat altogether.

It’s really frustrating and you’ll probably worry that your kid isn’t eating enough but stay consistent. Remember that your goal is to raise healthy kids who are willing to try—and eventually accept—a variety of healthy foods.

Studies show proper nutrition can prevent chronic health conditions, is linked to increase in cognitive function, attention and memory, higher achievement on standardized tests, athletic performance and improved sleep.

Related: 10 Reasons Kids Should Eat Healthy That Have Nothing to Do With Childhood Obesity

That’s not to say you can’t add in a cookie or a dessert, because part of learning how to eat healthy includes balance, but make it a special, occasional treat instead of an everyday thing.

What are some of your tips for packing a healthy school lunch? Let me know in the comments!

5 Signs You’re Overfeeding Your Kids

5 Signs You’re Overfeeding Your Kids

Although most parents struggle to get their kids to eat and worry they aren’t eating enough, you might be one who worries you’re overfeeding your kids.

With rates of childhood obesity still at an all time high and other conditions like type-2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) on the rise in kids, your cause for concern is justified.

What’s more, raising kids who have healthy eating habits and a healthy relationship with food now can help lower their risk for obesity-related diseases and emotional eating when they’re adults.

Although you shouldn’t put your kids on a diet, count calories or make an issue out of how much they’re eating, it can be tough to tell whether you’re giving them enough or too much.

Here, learn 5 signs that might mean you’re overfeeding your kids.

1. Your child’s plate is the same size as your plate

My kids eat a healthy diet, but although I try to be mindful of portion sizes, there are many times that I think they eat too much.

I have to remind myself that that kids aren’t adults.

Kids have smaller stomachs and their nutritional needs can be met with much smaller portions than you’d expect.

Instead of using large dinner-sized plates to serve your child’s meals, use kid-sized plates or appetizer plates to keep portion sizes at bay.

Related: How To Teach Kids Portion Control


2. Your kid is always in the bathroom

 

My daughter loves to eat fruit, which isn’t a bad thing of course, but when she eats too much sometimes it lands her in the bathroom with a stomachache.

This was true for me as a kid too, although it was usually Sunday dinner (French toast, pasta, meatballs, coffee cake, etc.) that did it.

If you notice your kid is constantly in the bathroom, or he complains of stomachaches, it could mean he’s eating too much.


3. You’re overfeeding your kids if there’s food left behind


If your kid is a picky eater, chances are you’re always worried if he’s eating enough.

Although your expectation is that he at least try everything, and at most eat everything you serve, it’s not always going to be the case—if at all.

According to Ellyn Satter, an authority on eating and feeding, it’s the parent’s responsibility to decide the whatwhen and where of feeding, and the child’s responsibility to decide how much and whether to eat.

Kids shouldn’t be expected to eat everything on their plates. 

Instead of encouraging your kids, “take 3 more bites,” or setting a rule that they have to clean their plates before dessert or before being excused from the table, let them decide when they’ve had enough.

Give your kids plenty of opportunities to explore, taste, touch and smell food, and

time to develop their food preferences and learn what it feels like to be hungry and satisfied. 


4. Your kid loves snacks


Another sign you’re overfeeding your kids is that they’re eating too many snacks.

According to a March 2010 study in Health Affairs, kids reach for snacks 3 times a day and consume up to 600 calories from foods like chips, crackers and candy.

What’s more, the largest increase in snacking over the years is among kids between ages 2 and 6, the same study found.

Filling up on processed, packaged snacks in particular can crowd out calories and opportunities to serve up healthy, whole foods like fruits and vegetables. The same goes for juice or too much milk.

Although there’s no hard and fast rule about how often kids should snack, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggest toddlers need 2 to 3 snacks a day, while pre-schoolers need 1 to 2 snacks per day—healthy snacks that give them the nutrition they need.

If you cut back on the amount of snacks but you still find that there is food left on your child’s plate, consider making snacks smaller, adjusting the time between meals and snacks, or eliminating snack all together.


5. Your kid’s clothes are getting small


When you have young kids, it’s amazing to see how fast they grow.

It seems one minute you buy a bunch of new clothes and the next, they’ve grown out of them.

If you notice that your kid’s clothes are getting small in a short amount of time, it might be that he’s eating too much.

If your child’s BMI is high however, or he’s suddenly gaining too much weight, it’s not necessarily a cause for concern because sometimes their height hasn’t yet caught up with their weight.

However, it’s always a good idea to bring it up with your child’s pediatrician who will chart his growth trends every year and make sure he’s growing taller and gaining weight at a consistent pace.

You might also consider speaking to a registered dietitian-nutritionist (RDN) who can evaluate your child’s diet and help you with things like portion control, meal planning and recipes.

Do you think you’re overfeeding your kids? What have you done to curb the habit? Let me know in the comments!